I’m from India, and mostly proud of it. Except when it comes to writing.
What’s my ethnicity got to do with my writing life? Plenty, as you’ll discover.
The unpublished manuscript of my debut novel, Tell A Thousand Lies, was shortlisted for the Tibor Jones South Asia award. Independent of this, I was offered a publishing contract by one of India’s biggest publishing houses (they have fantastic distribution within India).
So what’s the problem?
Well, in India we do not have literary agents. If you’re thinking – yay – no handing over a chunk of your royalties to the agent, well, I wish it were that simple.
Because there are no agents here, publishers see no reason to offer good contracts to writers. The writers have no recourse. Rarely are they offered advances (though I have to admit, I was offered a good – for India – advance).
Bidding wars on manuscripts? Forget it. Better royalties at another publishing house? Out of luck, buddy. Bigger advances? Are you on meth?
You’re lucky if you get the attention of a publishing house. If they offer to publish your book, well, that’s your holy grail, never mind you might have clauses like – no royalties kicking in till 3000 copies are sold because ‘publisher has to make money, too’ (as a small publisher actually said to a fellow writer, who never saw a penny from his/her debut book – protecting the innocent here).
Now here’s where the tricky part comes in. Initial print runs for books could be as small as 2000 books. This is not an unusual situation in India (unless you’re Jeffrey Archer, or Chetan Bhagat, our home grown bestselling author) because the English language market is competing against various Indian languages (we have 18 official languages, 500 odd dialects). So. You have no advance, your book does not sell 2000 copies (small publishers might not report sales accurately – its been known to happen).
Where does that leave you, the published author? With not a paise in your purse.
Is this the case with me? Actually not. My publisher is big, reputable, has offered me an advance *and* royalties. And they have offered to print hardbacks for me. I’m told if the publisher is thinking hardbacks, they are serious about you as author.
Then why am I complaining?
The royalties are small, to begin with. There is no scope for negotiation. None whatsoever. Take it, or leave it – my only options. They keep translation rights, which is fine, except, the sample contracts I’ve seen from literary agents in the US, translation monies get split 50%. Not in my case. Still the same small percentage.
I’ve not even gotten to my biggest gripe – they’re giving me 25% of ebooks royalties. Since they’ve not negotiated with Amazon, I get 25% of 30 % of the price. I don’t get to set the price of the ebook, of course, but there are two ways this can go:
1. The price of the book is as high as the paperback. Let’s get real, who buys ebooks for $20? So no monies.
2. The price is set to under $5, reasonable for a no-name recognition writer like me. Let’s do the math here. After royalties, my share of the ebook – .25 x .3 x $4.99?
So, I’m thinking of going out on my own.
My author friends, to use very polite terms, think I’m freakin’ nuts. In India, ebooks are not popular (I’m one of the rare ones who has an ebook reader). To have visibility, I must have paperbacks, which I can’t distribute on my own, so I must settle for whoever is willing to publish me. CreateSpace, Amazon’s paperback publishing arm, is not a viable option in India because shipping costs are prohibitive.
And did I mention my biggest gripe? I’ve looked at the top selling books, from top publishers in India. They either don’t have a presence on Amazon, or if they do, the books are either:
a. Ridiculously priced as ebooks
b. There are no ebooks, only print books
c. ebooks are uploaded, but there is no product description, no author’s bio on Author Central, no web presence, no ‘likes’, no reviews on Amazon, no book tours, no online book reviews, no interviews with book bloggers …
Here’s my question for the readers of this blog, then.
What’s a writer like me to do?
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Rasana Atreya left a comfortable job in IT because she likes roughing it out as a penniless writer. She’s the mother of two grade schoolers who’ve been begging for the chance to design the cover of her ebook, which might be okay, except her seven year old is BIG into potty humor. You can learn more about Rasana at her blog.